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The View from the East End (81)

By Inspector Hopkins

December 30, 2007

British Honours (Part 2)

by Inspector Hopkins
As we saw last time, there are ten Orders of chivalry within the British system of Honours. This week, applying his methods, we’ll try to deduce which knighthood Sherlock Holmes may have been offered.

Sir Sherlock Holmes?

Referring back to the table of these orders of chivalry, and doing only a little bit more research within Wikipedia, we can indeed come up with a plausible suggestion as to Holmes’s knighthood:

  • Out of the ten Orders in existence, we can eliminate the latest three because they were established after 3GAR, i.e. after June of 1902.
  • Although Holmes could have been offered a knighthood in several of the seven earlier Orders, it would make sense to focus on the four orders established by Queen Victoria and King Edward VII.
  • Since one of these has been eliminated as mentioned above, there remains only three to consider: The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and The Royal Victorian Order (VO) both established by Queen Victoria, and The Order of Merit (OM) established by King Edward VII.
  • We can eliminate the DSO from consideration because this honour is based on meritorious service in war and thus is a military award.
  • Recall that Holmes earned the gratitude of Queen Victoria during BRUC in 1895, and received an emerald pin from her. Since she established the VO in 1896, this order remains a possibility.
  • The Order of Merit (OM) is one of the honours awarded solely at the discretion of the Sovereign, and was established by Edward VII in 1902. Even though it is a very high honour, this Order does not confer a knighthood.

Therefore, we might conclude that Holmes was offered a knighthood in the Royal Victorian Order, probably in the class of Knight Commander.  Had he accepted it, then, he would have been referred to as “Sir Sherlock Holmes, KCVO”.

The big question

It turns out that “refusing a knighthood” is a more commonplace event than one might think, and there are many examples of individuals besides Sherlock Holmes who did just that.  A modern listing includes Alistair Sims, Trevor Howard, Paul Scofield, and David Bowie. And, according to the on-line encyclopedia, artist L.S. Lowry refused a record total of four honours plus a knighthood!

But why would Holmes do such a thing?

Perhaps like author and professor C.S. Lewis, he refused it to avoid possible association with any political issues. Further, according to the listing I have read, some people of Irish and/or Scottish heritage may decline a British knighthood because they perceive it as being insulting to their ancestry. One example given is Alexander Mackenzie. Some Sherlockians might think that Holmes may have had some French ancestry due to his distant relation to the French artist Vernet. I personally think that is a bit of a stretch, but if true, perhaps he also would have considered a knighthood as being insulting to his heritage.

However, after thoroughly reading through the Canon, newcomers to Sherlockiana will realize that Holmes did not seem to care very much for the rich, the powerful, and the aristocratic. Recall his attitude and demeanor towards Lord St. Simon in The Noble Bachelor, the Duke of Holderness in The Priory School, or Neil Gibson of Thor Bridge, for some examples.

In all likelihood, Holmes felt that accepting a knighthood would give the perception that he was associated with the aristocracy, and that he was distancing himself from the common people. But what else would you expect from someone who preferred reading letters from a fish-monger and a tide-waiter rather than from a member of nobility?  ;-)

The interested Sherlockian is referred to the following link for further details:

Until next time, and wishing all my readers a very Healthy and Happy New Year, I am,

Yours Faithfully,